The first wave of specialty retailers will post their quarterly results next week. Because most retail chains end their fiscal year in January, we will be looking at the quarters that ended last month in most cases. It won't be pretty, if the dark results from Hot Topic are any indication.

Consumer confidence may have shown signs of life lately, but it probably won't be enough to save the day. Analysts believe that most of the mall chains will report lower earnings than they did a year ago. You find a break in the bad news in Wal-Mart Stores (NYSE:WMT), and even then it's not exactly a growth pinata. For the country's largest retailer, Wall Street sees flat earnings growth.

Let's take a look at who is reporting next week.

 

Projected Earnings

Year-Ago Earnings

Liz Claiborne (NYSE:LIZ)

($0.23)

$0.28

Macy's (NYSE:M)

($0.26)

$0.02

Kohl's (NYSE:KSS)

$0.38

$0.49

Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN)

$0.23

$0.54

J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP)

$0.02

$0.54

Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE:ANF)

($0.12)

$0.69

Source: Yahoo! Finance.

I told you it wouldn't be pretty. These are companies that obviously shine over the holidays, so investors usually don't expect much earlier in the year. Still, it has to sting to see a mall anchor like Macy's and staples like Abercrombie & Fitch and Liz Claiborne pegged to swing from last year's profits to outright losses.

Investors will be braced for the results. They have seen the malaise in the bleak monthly same-store sales that many of these chains have put out. The real meat in the metrics will be if the chains had to sacrifice margins to move dated inventory and how they see business shaping up for the current quarter.

The retail future should be rosier than the past. The federal tax credit kicked in last month, marginally boosting many paychecks around the country. It may not seem like much, but it could be the motivational push to get the malls moving again.

Don't take it from me, though. Make sure you hear it from the retailers next week. If not, just do what most shoppers have been doing: Go window shopping, but put your money to work elsewhere.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz prefers to hang out at the food court, collecting the free toothpick-skewered food samples. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.